Managing New Orleans Flood Risk in an Uncertain Future Using Non-Structural Risk Mitigation

by Jordan R. Fischbach

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This dissertation addresses one of New Orleans' most critical challenges: how to make the city more resilient and less vulnerable to future flood damages. The author considers proposals to augment the existing protection system with “nonstructural” risk mitigation programs focused on single-family homes, including incentives for elevating existing or new structures, revised building codes, incentives for relocation to lower-risk areas, and land use restrictions designed to curtail future growth in the floodplain. He develops a low-resolution scenario generator designed to produce first-order estimates of property risk from 2011 to 2060 across a range of uncertain future scenarios, and applies exploratory modeling and robust decisionmaking methods to (a) suggest strategies that balance risk reduction and implementation costs across many or most plausible futures, and (b) identify scenarios in which current alternatives yield negative net economic benefits or excessive levels of residual risk. Nonstructural risk mitigation strategies appear to provide cost-effective risk reduction in high-risk neighborhoods and help to hedge against futures in which damages from more-frequent annual events are greater than expected. However, substantial residual risk remains from lower-frequency events, even with large investments in nonstructural risk mitigation.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction: Coastal Flooding Continues to Threaten New Orleans

  • Chapter Two

    Past and Present Flood Risk Management in New Orleans and Along the Lower Mississippi River

  • Chapter Three

    Addressing Deep Uncertainty in Flood Risk Assessments

  • Chapter Four

    A Low-Resolution Flood Risk Scenario Generator for Orleans Parish

  • Chapter Five

    Non-Structural Risk Mitigation: Tools and Strategies

  • Chapter Six

    Assessing Risk Mitigation Strategies in an Uncertain Future

  • Chapter Seven

    Developing More Robust Strategies for New Orleans

  • Chapter Eight

    Conclusions and Recommendations

  • Appendix A

    Strategy results for each neighborhood

  • Appendix B

    Additional citywide strategy comparisons

  • Appendix C

    Vulnerability analysis using the government discount rate

Research conducted by

This document was submitted as a dissertation in March 2010 in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the doctoral degree in public policy analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. The faculty committee that supervised and approved the dissertation consisted of Steven W. Popper (Chair), David G. Groves, and Richard Hillestad.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Dissertation series. Pardee RAND dissertations are produced by graduate fellows of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, the world's leading producer of Ph.D.'s in policy analysis. The dissertations are supervised, reviewed, and approved by a Pardee RAND faculty committee overseeing each dissertation.

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